Nadler & Cummings Urge DOJ IG to Investigate Attempts to Discredit FBI Investigators & Weaken FBI Independence

Jan 24, 2018 Issues: Government Oversight/Executive Branch, Law Enforcement, Trump

Washington, D.C. –Today, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the Ranking Member of the House Committee on the Judiciary and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD), the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General (IG), to request an investigation into attempts to weaken the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) independence and discredit career investigators.  This letter follows reports that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions—at President Donald Trump’s urging—pressured FBI Director Christopher Wray to fire FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. It also follows reports that President Trump had a political litmus test for Deputy Director McCabe when he asked how McCabe voted during the 2016 election while he was serving as the Acting FBI Director–a position created after President Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey, who was asked for “loyalty” and pressured to “go easy” on the President’s former National Security Advisor, General Michael Flynn.

In their letter, the Members wrote, “We write to ask you to investigate a pattern of behavior, apparently coordinated by the White House and the political leadership of the Department of Justice, aimed at discrediting career investigators and weakening the traditional independence of the FBI.  It seems obvious that the goal of these attacks is to undermine the Special Counsel’s investigation into connections between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.”

On June 29, 2017, all Democrats on the House Committees on Oversight and Government Reform and Judiciary, sent a letter to the Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz requesting an investigation into whether Attorney General Jeff Sessions violated his recusal when he participated in President Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey.

On July 26, 2017, House Judiciary Republicans shut down a resolution of inquiry which sought information from the White House and the Department of Justice related to the recusal of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the removal of former FBI Director James Comey, and any recordings the White House may have made of conversations between Director Comey and President Trump. Rather than debate the underlying resolution, Judiciary Republicans adopted an amendment offered by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL)  - that completely struck the content of the bill and substituted a request for information on a wide range of right-wing conspiracy theories about Cheryl Mills and Hillary Clinton sourced from a pro-Trump Reddit thread.

Full text of the letter is available here and below.

 

The Hon. Michael Horowitz

Inspector General

U.S. Department of Justice

Office of the Inspector General

950 Pennsylvania Ave, NW, Suite 4706

Washington, DC, 20530

 

Dear Mr. Horowitz,

We write to ask you to investigate a pattern of behavior, apparently coordinated by the White House and the political leadership of the Department of Justice, aimed at discrediting career investigators and weakening the traditional independence of the FBI.  It seems obvious that the goal of these attacks is to undermine the Special Counsel’s investigation into connections between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

In one recently reported incident, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is alleged to have repeatedly asked Director Wray to make a “fresh start” at the FBI—by firing Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and other members of the FBI leadership team who had worked closely with former FBI Director James Comey.[1]  Director Wray is said to have been so frustrated by these efforts that he threatened to resign.[2]

In another episode, President Trump apparently summoned then-Acting FBI Director McCabe to the Oval Office, asked how Mr. McCabe voted in the 2016 presidential election, and “vented his anger at McCabe over the several hundred thousand dollars in donations that his wife, a Democrat, received for her failed 2015 Virginia state Senate bid from a political action committee controlled by a close friend of Hillary Clinton.”[3]

These are not isolated incidents.  President Trump habitually attacks senior career FBI and Department of Justice personnel by name.[4]  For example, on July 26, 2017, the President tweeted: “Why didn't A.G. Sessions replace Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, a Comey friend who was in charge of Clinton investigation but got...big dollars ($700,000) for his wife’s political run from Hillary Clinton and her representatives. Drain the Swamp!”[5]  President Trump has also criticized FBI General Counsel Jim Baker[6] and several senior FBI agents involved in the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.[7]

At base, these efforts to remove or discredit senior FBI officials relate to the ongoing Special Counsel’s investigation.  We ask that you investigate these matters for two reasons. 

First, we must protect the Department of Justice and the FBI from inappropriate political pressure.  Director Wray said it well during his confirmation hearing:

I believe to my core that there’s only one right way to do this job and that is with strict independence, by the book, playing it straight, faithful to the Constitution, faithful to our laws and faithful to the best practices of the institution; without fear, without favoritism and, certainly, without regard to any partisan political influence.[8]

Director Wray is now confronted with that “partisan political influence.”  We require your assistance to ascertain the scope and nature of that influence.

Second, we believe the Attorney General may have violated the terms of his recusal.  On January 10, 2017, the Attorney General testified he would recuse himself “from any questions involving those kind of investigations that involve Secretary Clinton and that were raised during the campaign or to be otherwise connected to it.”  Senator Chuck Grassley later asked, “To be very clear, you intend to recuse yourself from both the Clinton e-mail investigation and any matters involving the Clinton Foundation, if there are any?”  He responded, “yes.”[9]  In a subsequent written statement, the Attorney General also confirmed that he was recused from “any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States.”[10]

President Trump has linked his attacks on Deputy Director McCabe to the Clinton investigation and his attacks on other senior FBI personnel to the Special Counsel’s investigation.  If Attorney General Sessions pressured Director Wray to fire certain personnel in an attempt carry out the President’s wishes, he may have violated the terms of his recusal.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this request.  We would appreciate the courtesy of a reply by February 7, 2018.

 

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[1] Jonathan Swan, Jeff Sessions Urged FBI Boss to Make a “Fresh Start,” Axios, Jan. 21, 2018.  See also Devlin Barrett & Philip Rucker, Tensions Swell between Sessions and FBI over Senior Personnel from Comey Era, Wash. Post, Jan. 22, 2018.

[2].Jonathan Swan, FBI Director Threatened to Resign Amid Trump, Sessions Pressure, Axios, Jan. 22, 2018

[3] Ellen Nakashima, et al., Trump Asked the Acting FBI Director How He Voted during Oval Office Meeting, Wash. Post, Jan. 23, 2018.

[4] It does not seem to be a coincidence that these individuals are often in a position to corroborate Director Comey’s contemporaneous memoranda and congressional testimony about President Trump. Michael S. Schmidt, Comey and Sessions are Questioned for Hours in Russia Inquiry, N.Y. Times, Jan. 23, 2018.  

[5] President Donald Trump (@realDonaldTrump), Twitter, July 26, 2017, 9:48 AM and 9:52 AM.

[6] President Donald Trump (@realDonaldTrump), Twitter, Dec. 23, 2017, 3:32 PM.

[7] President Donald Trump (@realDonaldTrump), Twitter, Jan. 23, 2018, 6:55 AM.

[8] Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Hearing on the Nomination of Christopher A. Wray to be FBI Director, July 12, 2017.

[9] Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Hearing on Nomination of Sen. Sessions to be Attorney General, Jan. 10, 2017.

[10] U.S. Dept. of Justice, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Statement on Recusal (Mar. 2, 2017).